Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Beginning of Lent: Busia's Polish City Chicken for Fat Tuesday!

Lent, Fat Tuesday, City Chicken, Polish, Detroit, Busia
A plate of City Chicken with Busia's Fried Potatoes and Mizeria (a dill and cucumber salad).
I wanted to create a dinner menu that would be suited to the weekend prior to Lent. It would have to be rich and filling as Lent is a time of fasting and sacrifice so the contrast needed to be obvious. I settled on a salad of cucumbers and sour cream, City Chicken for the main dish, and Busia's smashed potatoes for the side, with Paczki, Polish jelly-filled doughnuts for dessert. That should be rich enough! You can always skip the doughnuts!

Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream (Mizeria)

Ingredients for Mizeria.
“When my grandmother made this recipe, she would pick fresh cucumbers from the garden, slice them and salt them, let them sit for ½ hour to drain, rinse them and add some thinly sliced white onion. She would put them into a large bowl, add vinegar and sour cream, stir it up, no measuring.”—Barbara, my sister.

Mizeria, Cucumbers, Sour cream, Dill, Detroit, Polish
Mizeria (Dilled Cucumber Salad).

1 medium cucumber peeled and thinly sliced (I used the English hothouse cucumber because has less acidity)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
4 heaping tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh dill weed (optional)

Sprinkle the cucumber with plenty of salt and leave to drain in a colander for at least 1/2 hour. Then rinse in cold water and drain. Mix the vinegar with the sour cream and sugar. Add dill and cucumber and mix well. Chill for 30 minutes. Put in serving dish and garnish with remaining dill before serving.

Busia’s Fried Potatoes

Busia's Fried Potatoes - simple, but delicious!

4 large potatoes, quartered and parboiled
2 cups carrots, sliced and parboiled
1 medium onion, quartered, sliced, and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Sauté onions in butter and olive oil in an non-stick frying pan until golden. Slice and add potatoes. Add carrots. Sauté over medium heat, until potatoes and carrots are soft. Stir occasionally. Golden bits of potatoes are good.

Busia, Fried Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, Polish, Detroit
This bowl of Busia's Fried Potatoes makes my mouth water just looking at it!

Dad took Busia and me to Chicago to visit her sister and other family in the area. I have lost touch with all of the cousins in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. It was a long trip then, along US 12, Michigan Avenue from Detroit to Chicago, so Busia brought along a casserole of City Chicken, so that we would have a snack along the way. Driving into downtown Chicago was awesome. It was incredible as we drove along Michigan Avenue, trying to find directions to our family.

City Chicken platter
A platter of city chicken.
City Chicken contains no chicken. It is made up of chunks of pork and veal that are put on a skewer, breaded, and then fried. Tradition has it that during the Great Depression, city folk did not have access to chicken as it was too expensive, so they made do with "mock" chicken. If you use your imagination City Chicken can look a bit like a breaded chicken drumstick!

Christenings were another event that were so important to my memory, as so many of us were born in the summer. Everyone would gather in the backyard of the house on McKean Road. If it were too hot, some would gather on the side porch off the garage. Food would always be served in the basement, where it was cooler. There would always be an oven roaster full of stuffed cabbages. Kielbasa was always served as well as potato salad. Sometimes there was City Chicken, but I never realized the time it took to make them!

Prepping for city chicken.

City Chicken

1 pound pork for stew
1 pound veal for stew
1 onion
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 celery tops, very coarsely chopped
Bread crumbs (I use Japanese Panko breadcrumbs, made finer using a rolling pin)
Wooden or bamboo skewers
Vegetable oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut onion in half. Cut halves into thirds. Turn and cut again into thirds. You should have many half pieces of onion. Microwave for 1 minute. Check to see if tender. Continue to microwave until tender.

Cut pork and veal into 1” or chunks. Spray skewers with cooking spray. Alternate one piece of pork, 1 piece of onion, 1 piece of veal, 1 piece of pork, etc. until you have about a 4” skewer of meat. Salt and pepper to taste.

Dredge in flour. Shake off excess flour. Beat eggs, add milk, and whisk together. Dip meat into egg mixture. Coat with breadcrumbs. Fry in medium hot oil until lightly brown on both sides.

Transfer to baking pan. Top with celery. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve hot or cold.

Finished platter of City Chicken.


  1. My mother would make this and to this day I still make it.

    1. I can still remember a road trip to Chicago with my dad, my grandmother and me. My grandmother made city chicken so that we had a snack along the way. In the 1950s it was a long trip along Michigan Avenue from Detroit to Chicago. Today it is less than 4 hours.

  2. Thanks for this, I love the recipe and the story is just as good. I want to make this and take it on my next trip driving my Daughter back to school, after Christmas break, and maybe she will have similar memories too one day.

  3. Where were you a media specialist? I’m also a retired LMS. I worked in Oxford, MI, north of Pontiac. We now live in NC, but I’m going to make your city chicken tonight. Reminds me of Polish Village in Hamtramck!